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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 December, 2004, 21:29 GMT
Angry mood in eastern Ukraine
By Jonathan Charles
BBC News, Donetsk, eastern Ukraine

Voters in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine will go to the polls on Sunday in an angry mood.

Many backed the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, in last month's annulled presidential election and are expected to turn out heavily for him again.

Ukrainian miners
Miners show their support for Viktor Yanukovych
They support his policy of closer ties to Russia and repeatedly make clear their contempt for his rival, opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Viktor Yanukovych comes from the eastern region of Donetsk and this heavily industrialised part of Ukraine likes to think of itself as the nation's economic powerhouse.

Amongst his most fervent supporters are the Donetsk coal miners.

At one pit that I visited, the mood was overwhelmingly in favour of Mr Yanukovych.

Pit closures

The miners I spoke to accused the opposition party of wanting to sell Ukraine to the West.

Sergey, who has worked at Trudovskaya mine for 30 years, told me that if Mr Yushchenko wins, "then there'll be a very negative reaction here, we'll march to the Capital, Kiev to protest."

Viktor Yanukovych
Yanukovych's supporters say the election was stolen from him
The miners at Trudovskaya worry that an opposition victory would lead to cuts in government subsidies and the closure of many pits.

"The whole economy's based here in the east," said trade union representative Vitaly Kuzmenko.

"If necessary, we'll hold strikes and bring everything to a halt."

They like Mr Yanukovych because they say he has increased wages and pensions during his time as prime minister.

Sergey said: "He's a man who really understands us, not like Yushchenko who closed lots of mines when he was prime minister."


Publicly, most people that I have spoken to still insist that Mr Yanukovych could win but privately they expect him to lose.

Thoughts here are turning to what happens after the election.

Some would like the eastern regions to have more autonomy from the national government in Kiev, saying that would be the only way they could live under a Yushchenko presidency.

In Donetsk, few believe that he is a candidate who would ever appeal to them or would be capable of uniting the whole country behind him.

Most voters in Donetsk complain that the election was stolen from Mr Yanukovych's grasp last time and the odds are, once more, stacked against him.

Such feelings are stronger here in his home region than elsewhere in the east but they are widely shared in Russian-speaking areas.

People blame the West for interfering, accusing America and the European Union of agitating for the result that best suits them and of deciding who has won the election before anyone has even cast their vote.

If Mr Yanukovych does lose, then expect his supporters in Donetsk, at least, to make a very public show of their outrage.

Tension remains high in the country

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